Saturday, April 30, 2011

The 19 Most Depressing Pieces of Art in My Life (thus far)

I've wanted to compile this list for a few months now, but alas, such a doleful endeavor takes the right twinkle of melancholy and energy to attack. And that night is tonight! Hoo-rah! 

I reckon that we have two way in which we may choose to respond to thematic tragedies. 
  1. We can become more pessimistic and cynical
  2. We can let stories of brokenness remind us of our dependence upon God.
For me, the second response comes rather naturally. I acknowledge that this is not necessarily true of most folks, but nevertheless I hope today's excursion into the profoundly lugubrious lends itself towards the latter response.

Now, before we began, let us hone in on what constitutes an entry onto this list. First off, because this is meant to be a reflection upon art and story, not life itself, all pieces that are direct depictions of actual atrocities (say, Schindler's List, for instance) have been excluded. Secondly, those pieces that are through-and-through miserable from beginning to end have no place here. In order for me to walk away a ruined man in spirit, I have to believe along the way that there is hope. That is essential to the perfect arc of a tragedy. Films like Umberto D. and Away From Her are just so darn dreary from the first frame that I never dared to hope for the protagonists. Finally, all these additions below have not only an immediate jolt of immediate sadness, but a long-term ruminating pain as well. 

With all these, the real depression extended to my soul slowly over time. It must also be made clear that although I use the term 'depressing', perhaps I mean something quite different. All these pieces of art make me hurt -- but hurt so good. If we were to talk about this list in person, you would see that I wouldn't be able to hold back a grin whilst describing these entries. I don't know... maybe that makes me some form of sadist -- but I think this entries fall into a special niche genre of "Things hurt sooo good".

19. The Story of Ferdinand (1936) 
by Munro Leaf short story
Ferdinand is a happy bull. He sits and smells flowers. That's great! Hallelujah! Glory be to God! If I was introduced to this tender little tale in adulthood, I reckon I would only purvey it as a gentle, blissful story. But I did not encounter Ferdinand in adulthood, nosireebob! I met Ferdinand somewhere just past the crib years... and was therefore, unceremoniously introduced to a world that included men who saw killing flower smelling bulls as sport. What a ghastly thing bullfighting is. The book ends with the supposition that Ferdinand is still smelling away at those flowers -- and then we get that final succinct line, He is very happy. How? My little heart couldn't grapple with how something so innocent and delicate as Ferdinand could dwell in a world that also contained blood-thirsty matadors. The paradox pained me as a child. Now, as I reflect on Ferdinand, my heart dwells on the sheer innocence of that bull. Innocent things are so precious, and so different from the creature I am, that there is an element of paradox and pain in the idea for me even before the matadors are introduced.

18. Guernica (1937)
by Pablo Picasso painting
Guernica is about a devastating battle that took place during the Spanish Civil War, but you don't need to know that, nor would you ever be able to tell that, by merely absorbing the painting. Being perhaps Picasso's most famous painting, I likely first saw the painting in some textbook. Textbooks don't do this work justice. It is a massive thing. Huge. 
Guernica as portrayed in the 2006 film Children of Men

 The painting doesn't make much sense, in that it is hardly depicting a scene that is visually depictable. What innately strikes me about it is the sense of chaos and desperation. Add to that the element that it feels very primitive, almost childish, and you leave with the anguish of a nightmare that is both impenetrable to decipher and impossible to vanquish.

17. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
 directed by Lars Von Trier movie
A struggling single mother who is going blind finds an escape from her difficult life through song and her wondrous imagination. Bring the whole family! 

Lars Von Trier is an artistic on the scale of Caravaggio and Rembrandt. The problem is he appears fixated, obsessed even, on the sickly and deranged aspects of this life. Dancer in the Dark is one of the few exceptions, in which Von Trier allows for mesmerizing moments of beauty to intoxicate his audience. He then leverages the beauty to destroy his creation. I assure you, it's absolutely as epic and systematically gut-turning as you can imagine.

16. That One Moment from
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998)
television show
Dr. Quinn was a show to watch with the fam. I sure did. Now, I can't tell you what episode this scene is from, nor can I remember anything else from that plotline --- I only have a moment emblazoned on my memory banks. 

It's night. Late. We see the outside of Dr. Quinn's place of work. We hear crickets and frogs. Suddenly, the front door swings open. A man sprints out of the residence, falling on his knees. The dust of the ground puffs up into the air as this man slams his fists repeatedly against the ground. He sobs and yells to the heavens. He is pleading with God. He asks God not to take her. His sobs overwhelm him and he smothers his face into the dust. 

When I envision desperation, I think of this scene. I have also thought, since I was very young, that this type of desperation is an amazing thing. As a child, I never knew such emotion. I couldn't imagine ever being that wholly consumed with something. I wanted to live such a life that would demand such an extreme from me. Even today, I think of this man, and think of how I wish I could smolder with such conviction for my Lord. Could I take up my daily cross and infuse my love for my fellow man with such passion that I could pray for their salvation the way that this man pleaded with God to spare the life of his loved one?

15. People Ain't No Good 
by Nick Cave song
Perhaps I'm cheating by including Nick Cave's solemn song on this list, since the first line is the song's title, so right from the get-go you know things are gonna go so hot. But after the initial declaration we go in reverse. There's a wedding. There's budding trees. Newspapers are read merrily over a warm cup of Joe. You see, the trick is, we all know that people just ain't no good, that's a gosh-darn fact. But the trick of it is we keep forgetting that fact. It's a lesson we have to continually be retaught and retaught. Always the hard way. Sing us out, Nick. 

14. The Green Mile (1999)
directed by Frank Darabont film
Is there a better piece of propaganda for eliminating the death penalty than this film? I think not. Through the course of the film, we watch three men electrocuted to death, all of them good men as far as we can tell; the last being some sort of angel. But it's not the death itself that gets you in the end. Before Paul Edgecomb walks John Coffey down the green mile, Paul asks John if he'd like them to free him somehow. The men of the mile love their giant, and none of us can bear to see this angel die. Coffey responds by stating that it is good to die. Every moment Coffey feels the pain of the world, like shards of glass in his head. Okay. We figure that they're throwing us a bone here. Coffey wants to die. That'll make the inevitable less easy, right? Nope. When Coffey walks into the execution room, the crowd jeers at him. Coffey freezes. Paul asks what's wrong: "A lot of people in this room hate me." And so they kill an innocent man.

John Coffey is not Jesus Christ. He does not resurrect. We are not saved by the electricity burning his veins. So in the end all that's left is regret.

13. Famous Blue Raincoat
by Leonard Cohen song
Once upon a time I laid on the floor and listened to this song eighteen times consecutively. I don't know the story behind the song, but Cohen does end it by signing the song off with his name, giving the illusion that we just read a letter that we were never meant to read. This song is about pain long gone. This is a song for that moment trapped after mourning. This is for those unbearable places in the heart when you know you were supposed to have moved on by now, but still, it lingers. This is for that time when you can feel all sorts of stings -- not just the trauma of loss, not just the immediate punch, but all the pricks of inconsolables. 

12. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You
 by Led Zeppelin song

If this were a list of songs I found most intrinsically melancholy, then this Zeppelin classic would be nowhere in sight. My good friend played this song for me months after he went through a bad break-up. For me the song now represents that empathetic pain you feel when your loved ones go through something you can't. Where they go you can't follow. And then there's the bitter reality that you can't ever really go away. Not really.

11. The Steadfast Tin Soldier (1838)
by Hans Christian Andersen short story

If you ever want your heart ripped out of your butt, Mr. Andersen is a trusty guy to have around. As a child, I had a little illustrated children's book of Tin Soldier, and man alive, is it ever a wallop of a tale. In just a few paragraphs, this little toy goes through a Lord of the Rings-esque adventure. It starts with him being the 25th and final member of a set of toy soldiers, only, the toy maker ran out of tin, so this last guy is short and missing a leg. One day he spots a beautiful paper ballerina. He sees that she only has one leg -- so he humbly reckons that she would be a good match for him. The soldier is mistaken, however, because the ballerina is simply bending her one leg behind her back and out of view. She is a perfect creation. The soldier spends all his days ceaselessly gazing at her. Andersen's brilliance comes through the simplicity of thought. Then, through a series of fateful strokes, the soldier goes on an extreme adventure that takes him underground, inside a fish, and finally back home. Upon arrival, the soldier of course searches for his precious ballerina. Andersen gives us these lines,
She still balanced on one leg, with the other raised high. She too was steadfast. That touched the soldier so deeply that he would have cried tin tears, only soldiers never cry. He looked at her, and she looked at him, and never a word was said. Just as things were going so nicely for them, one of the little boys snatched up the tin soldier and threw him into the stove. He did it for no reason at all.
It only gets more heart-wrenching from that point forth, but I dare not spoil a few of the eye-gaugingly poetic lines that follow. That Andersen cared enough to add that the soldier was thrown in the stove, 'for no reason at all' particularly burdens my soul. 

10. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
directed by Robert Bresson film

This is one of those films that leaves you in such a state that you are ready to cry with tears of mercy accepted when you recall the first of Jesus' Beattitudes. John 5:3: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

9. Help Me 
as sung by Johnny Cash song
Cash just got better with age. In his latter years, Johnny's cover of the NIN song Hurt received much acclaim, but as much as I love that rendition, it was Cash's posthumously released album, American V that would eviscerate my emotional soul. Help Me is the first song on the album -- this is very important. During the summer of '06 I biked to work every morning. I was dreadfully sad during this season of my life. And so, every morning, as I pedaled that bike -- as I pedaled to another day -- as I pedaled to a hope of better times, I listened to Johnny's sad prayer of a tired man. Here are the lyrics:

Oh, lord, help me to walk
Another mile, just one more mile;
I'm tired of walkin' all alone.

And lord, help me to smile
Another smile, just one more smile;
Don't think I can do things on my own.

I never thought I needed help before;
Thought that I could get by - by myself.
But now I know I just can't take it any more.
And with a humble heart, on bended knee,
I'm beggin' You please for help

Oh come down from Your golden throne to me, to lowly me;
I need to feel the touch of Your tender hand.
Release the chains of darkness
Let me see, Lord let me see;
Just where I fit into your master plan.

I never thought I needed help before;
Thought that I could get by - by myself.
Now I know I just can't take it any more.
And with a humble heart, on bended knee,
I'm beggin' You please for help
With a humble heart, on bended knee,
I'm beggin' You please for help

It's funny. I'm now oddly nostalgic for those bike rides... and those tired prayers.

8. "We Have to Go Back!" 
LOST (2004-2010)
television show 
Yes, yes, I am still all kinds of bitter about the way LOST left me. That's a pain in-and-of itself that just won't go away. But I shall momentarily put that aside. 

The season finale of the third season of Lost was sublime. It was pitch perfect television. It was the perfect tragedy. The show, for over sixty episodes had been about these people struggling to get off this mystical island. Then suddenly we are given a vision of the future. They make it. They get off the island. But the pity of it all is that Jack, our everyman, is an absolute suicidal wreck. He is an utterly broken man, that wants nothing more than to get back to the island. Oh, of how many islands I've wished to return to, I can no longer count. 

7. Pills
by The Perishers song

This is a song about hidden brokenness. So many of us are so good about keeping things moving even when the world's falling apart. Often in my life I have felt like the motor of my life is teetering on collapse, but somehow everything keeps chugging along. The lyrics of the song are exceptionally beautiful. Breathe in these lines:

I hope my smile can distract you
I hope my fists can fight for two
so it never has to show
and you'll never know

I hope my love can blind you
I hope my arms can bind you
so you'll never have to see
what we've grown to be.

6. The Single Man 
by Rod McKuen poem
My mother passed down her love of McKuen to me. It used to be a bit of a wonder to me how it came to be that my Mother embraced McKuen so much, since she certainly wasn't attached to the beatniks and hippies that McKuen tended to be mashed in amongst. But now when I read his poetry, or listen to the lyrics of his songs, I can hear the same poetic voice of that of my grandmother. My grandmother was/is a prolific poet, and her poetry often made simple points based on simple observations of nature. McKuen does this in spades. I have never read any poetry of my mother's. She doesn't so much do such things. I reckon if she did I would see McKuen in her voice then too. This particular poem seeps in at that gaping fear that I myself will remain a single man... caught up in my own cloud that doesn't quite translate to anyone else. The entirety of the poem is pasted below.

I live alone
that hasn't always been
easy to do for just a single man
sometimes at night
the walls talk back to me
they seem to say 
wasn't yesterday a better day

always alone
at home or in a crowd
the single man off on his private cloud
caught in a world 
that few men understand
I am what I am 
a single man

once was a time
I can't remember when
the house was filled with love
but then again it might have been
imagination's plan 
to help along
the single man

5.  Inscription on a Monument to a Newfoundland Dog (1808)
 by Lord Byron poem
The beauty of this poem is in its inherent truth. Byron bemoans the loss of his loyal best friend, but more than that, he compares the fates of man and beast, finding in it a twisted logic. How is it that man, that sinful sack "of animated dust" is bestowed grace from above to live to see another more perfect life, yet the animal world is given no such promise. The Newfoundland Dog, known to be a savior to many a man, dies, and that appears to be that. Death. Death and nothing more. Animals reap the harsh rewards of sin without having caused it, and yet their souls endure not to see a kingdom that is made right without man's sinful taint. 

4. East of Eden (1952) 
and every other Steinbeck novel
by John Steinbeck novel
Steinbeck is a glutton for endings that kick you in the gonads. For me, East of Eden provides the most potent kick. Six hundred pages lead you to this crushing moment of pleaded mercy. The story of Adam evolves into the story of Cain and Abel which in return spins into a reflection of the prodigal son. We all need grace. We need it or we die. Steinbeck is gifted by telling extremely articulate stories through very inarticulate character instruments. "Timshel." 

3. Where the Red Fern Grows (1961)
by Wilson Rawls novel
Don't give me that crap about how the ending is happy because, "only an angel can plant a red fern." Nah, man, that ain't good enough! My father read this dear book to me when I was five. Five. I subsequently blame my Father for my relative fixation on sad endings. Where the Red Fern Grows is simply devastating. A boy gets two dogs. Boy and dogs have marvelous adventures. Hooray! The dogs save boy from a vicious mountain lion. One dog dies because of wounds from the attack. Okay, one dead dog, I can deal with that. But then the other one dies of grief! Of grief! Little Ann dies from depression! Dogs aren't supposed to die of friggin depression! Man alive! I was five! Too young, too young... much too young.

2. A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
by John Irving novel
The story opens with John Wheelwright journaling and telling us about his old friend Owen. We don't know what happened to Owen, but since all the stories about Owen are in the past tense, it is a safe assumption to think that Owen is now dead. Along the way, as the flashbacks follow Owen in John through elementary, high school, and beyond, we also get strange little insights about John's current life. He spends an odd amount of time talking about the different churches he's attended of late. I remember thinking that the little present day journal notes didn't seem to have any impact on the story. I wondered why on earth Mr. Irving chose to write the story the way he did. And then, on the very last page, the prayer comes. It pulls everything into suspension. All the strings are pulled neatly tight. The structure of the novel makes perfect sense. And then I weep. I weep because I am led to pray the same prayer that John desperately exhales. I weep, and I also want to pray a different prayer. I want to ask God why he made the world the way He did. He could have fashioned a universe without pain. He could have made man in such a way that we would never sin, couldn't He have? He could have destroyed Adam and started again. Why didn't He? Why is it this way? 

1. The Plague Dogs (1982)
directed by Martin Rosen film
Yes, the movie starts out in what could be considered an animal torture facility. That's not a good sign for a film about two dogs. But it's animated! One doesn't expect such despair from cartoon animals. This film was the inspiration for this list, as it obliterated my preconceptions about sad animals in art. 

Yes, I should have known better... but along the way the two renegade dogs run into a sly fox that helps them survive and get by. So with the entrance of the fox, my mind started thinking Fox and the Hound, which is a rough film in its own rite at times. Plague Dogs is no Fox and the Hound. 

At the end of it all, The Plague Dogs accomplishes what all tragedies should: it makes us say, "There's gotta be more than this." There has got to be more to existence than this earth that keeps breaking us down. There's just got to be. 

Such desperate assertions of hope must surely lead to God's grace.
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 
John 14:1-3 ESV

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beautiful Beauty and Not-so Beautiful Beauty

A few weeks ago, a man named Nick Vujičič came to town. Actually, he came to five towns in Slovenia. He is a motivational speaker. He is a planter of seeds. He is a lover of Jesus.

Those of us here in Koper that knew of Nick's gifts and faith were quite excited for his coming. To our knowledge, no person like Nick had ever come to the Slovenian coast. The few weeks before Nick came, my team stood outside of stores passing out fliers getting the word out as best we could about Nick's coming. For several of those days, we had a tv set-up in the mall. On the screen a 3minute promo video played in a perpetual loop. I watched that promo hundreds of times.

What makes Nick's message so potent is the immediate authenticity he brings to the table. Nick was born without arms or legs (well, he has two very small 'chicken-feet' as he calls them). In a society that promotes authenticity above all -- in a world that is quick to doubt the motivations of anyone bearing a message -- Nick levels the field. He has accomplished an incredible amount in his life. This is obvious. And he credits it all to Christ's work on the cross for him. Grace. Listen to him, and you'll believe him. He has no ulterior motive. He is as he says he is: a man made rich by God's love.

On the video we played continuously, one line caught my attention. Nick said, "You are beautiful just the way you are, no matter what you think."

Nick's point was getting at self-esteem/self-love. The line comes amidst a monologue about girls who struggle with anorexia and the destructive things young teens do for acceptance and the hope of love. God loves you and made you precious. You are beautiful whether you believe it or not. That is the point.

With that line repeating into my ears every three minutes, I couldn't help but compare it to a very similar statement.

In 2002 Christina Aguilera came out with a song and accompanying music video, "Beautiful". I remember at the time how the song was praised as a delightful vision and dream of the way things should be. In general, I have a toxic response to mainstream visions of perfection. John Lennon's "Imagine" makes my stomach roll. Why would I ever desire to dwell in a world with no hope of Heaven?

Christina's song has a peculiar 'us vs. them' mentality. This is most prominently on display in the chorus line, "You are beautiful no matter what they say..."

Nick's line: 
You are beautiful no matter what you think.

You are beautiful no matter what they say.

The difference is slight, but the contrast immense.

Both lines presuppose your beauty. Great. Huzzah! But then it also appears that both lines imply a problem. That's the kicker. They allude to entirely different problems. Christina implies that the problem is them. They are the ones that need to change. They are trying to bring your beauty down... whoever they are. Nick speaks differently. The implication is that we ourselves undersell our value. We distort our own beauty by thinking we are not highly prized. The problem starts with us. We, the beautiful, make a mockery of our own worth.

Today is the Saturday before Easter. I'm not sure if this day has a special name (I assume the high church denominations have some slick term for it). Historically speaking, I can't imagine a sadder day than the one experienced two thousand years ago in Palestine.

This is the day of dread. Our Savior was dead.

He died because we thought so little of ourselves, and so little of the One who made us beautiful.

I often try to envision what this day was like for the twelve. What did they do? I imagine it would have been too soon for out-an-out mourning. Shock would still be king.

The Long Day.  The day that beauty appeared dead.

You are beautiful because there was a Sunday. The next day came. Tomorrow comes.

He is risen indeed. You are beautiful because of it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wherefore art Thou Heaven?

This evening I was cleaning my apartment. In the collection of dirtiness I swept into a pile, arose one of those little rollie pollie bugs.

Those little guys don't hurt anything!

They just make themselves into little balls when they're scared. That's it! That's all the good Lord gave them in this world.

Instinctively repulsed by the prospect of my residence being inhabited by any form of buganoid vermin, I smashed the helpless li'l creature.

Then came the sweeping regret. Like a miniature title wave of petty heartbreak -- like a paper cut in that most annoying place.

I'm becoming one of those literal, "He wouldn't even hurt a fly" type of fellas. This is not a masculine trait. My desire to relentlessly offer the world the musk of manliness is surely defied by my emotional remorsefullness.

The thing is this... I don't know if there's a Heaven for that little rollie pollie. I don't know if the animal kingdom gets the privilege of an Afterlife. All I know is that I ended this little creature's existence. Sure, he's a tiny little nothing, but to him, his life was everything!

Sure, you can say I'm anthropomorphising the little buggard, but really, we are unable to know what life is like for a rollie pollie. Maybe it is something actually precious for them. They matter enough for God to create them, right? The Lord is pleased by His creation, is He not? So who am I to take the life of this little God-servant????

And now I recall StrongBad on, and his sickly sweet drawing, "Li'l Brudder". Sigh...

Monday, April 11, 2011

In Haste: The Social Network

 How is one supposed to respond to this film? To this way of life? To this generation?

What Zuckerberg and company created was a phenomenal feat that spoke to the inner longings of the great myriad of collective personalities in society. Facebook offers a product that many of us not only engage with, but consume with a ceaseless zest. Perhaps Zuckerberg did indeed find a way to bottle the college experience and make it eternal. Maybe.

As I watched that last scene, the closing shot of moment to moment refreshing, I found myself tramped in a land I didn't know. Should I mourn for the Zuck? Should I see his relative failure at reaching social euphoria as a means to vilify and condemn all of Facebookom? Or do I turn and say, "Well, by the grace of God a magnificent device has clawed into existence out of a very flawed individual"? What should I say? What should I think?

The greatest of my emotions, however, was perhaps awe. I was awed at the genius and sheer intuitive force behind the facebook. What giants of thought walk around us! And then I sigh...

These men like Zuckerberg are leveraging their genius essentially for social mobility. They're primary influence, their fundamental kick to work hard, was that of fame. To me, this appears quite sad.

Thankfully and refreshing, I also recently caught an episode from the new Morgan Freeman narrated Discover Channel show, Through the Rabbit Hole. Here, these geeky scientists toil over numbers and conjectures not because it will lead to fame or social fortune, but because the questions of this cosmos urge them on. Now, a skeptic could say that they are as much motivated by pride as the Zuck generation, and although pride likely comes into the picture at some point, I think the two groups fundamentally start from a different place. The scientist, eager to look as far as possible into the reaches of the universe, began to look because they wanted to know more about this place got plopped us into to. The Zuck clan began because they wanted to exploit the world created by the social creature. One starts with examining pure creation, while the other looks to leverage creation's creations.

That what I have to say about that.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

With Apologies to Mr. White

Dear Reader(s),

Blogs are fascinating creatures. They often resemble the diary, that secret place where one spills out thoughts, memories, and incalculable moments simply for the sake of grasping at a sense of permanence. But the blog is public. It is often the id set alight onto the world. I guess that makes sense in this postmodern world, where authenticity is praised far above anything else. Sometimes I think that blogs are a bad thing, particularly for me, in that it further breeds thoughts of self-importance and self-adulation, crimes I surely am perennially guilty of committing. More on this below...

I've been a wuss when it comes to film watching of late.

Last week I happened upon a Hallmark channel-esque made-for-tv movie that was playing at like 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon; popcorn drivel at best. The story followed this 40-something dude whose business deal brings him back in contact with his first love from High School. Inevitably, the ridiculously telegraphed plot and corny as hell dialogue all led up to the former lovebirds reuniting in wedded bliss. Nevertheless, right at the tail end of the soapcapade, a scene starring the woman's 'current' fiance (the 'good, safe and comfortable' guy she's with before her High School love comes back into the picture) somehow got to me. The fiance-man accidentally walked in on the former lovebirds sharing a difficult conversation. Later that night, he and the girl are out for a nice dinner. He tells her that he saw the way she looked at the other guy, and that she never looks at him that way. Then, with an air of cool that I could never hope to attain for myself, he tells his fiance that it is alright. He tells her that all he wants for her is for her to be happy. The situation has proven itself that she would be happier if she could be with her childhood sweetheart. And so he breaks up with her.

Just like that I found myself all disconfigured in my inner being. I got all emotional alone in my apartment at 2pm on a Tuesday. Damn Hallmark films! This character, this 'fiance', was only ever a plot devise. He was created by the writer to be an obstacle for the lovers to get around. If this were Shakespeare, he would have had to have been undermined and slain by our protagonist. But here, in this gentle, predestined universe, he simply slays himself. Once he tells the girl to break up with him, she does, (in fact all she says is "thank you") and promptly runs out to chase her 'real' man. The camera follows her, and we never see this selfless 'fiance' again.

What got to me about this framework of a character is that no matter how shallow a plot device he was, he committed a selfless act that I probably will never live up to. If I were in that dude's shoes I would fight. I would beg. I would plead. I would do anything to try to keep the girl -- telling myself that because I loved her I should try my darndest to be with her.

Shoot, I was hoping that writing that story out would somehow make it hold more weight. Nope. Still sounds dorky.

Another incident of my wussy responses to art of late is a bit more legitimate. Rabbit Hole. The film's title alone had me committed. I had no idea how a title like that could relate to a movie about parent's dealing with the accidental death of their only child. I wanted to know what exact rabbit hole these characters were going to fall through. The well-crafted film plays much in vain of To Kill a Mockingbird*, relying heavily on moments of innocence to get us through the unthinkable. The film is driven by this child's death; he ran into the middle of the road chasing after his dog. He is killed by a teenage driver that didn't respond quickly enough. We then are given a first hand lesson in grieving. Perhaps understandably, the mother of the dead child, and the teenage driver who killed him, form a bond. It makes sense. Both have had their lives irreplaceably altered by the same cataclysmic event. Both feel responsible for the death of this innocent child. Both are damaged. To be clear, their relationship is never sexual, not remotely, but perhaps in some way they fall in love with each other. They love each other because of the bond they share.

We all love based on experience. We love because we are taught to love. We love because we share life together. We love because we feel bond to other by commonalities. Christians historically call one another brother and sister because we acknowledge that we share the same Father. St. Francis took this to an extreme by calling all of creation by familial terminology, for no where in creation can you find a being created by God who is not our mutual Father Creator. Even the Lord Himself, bond not only in His choosing to be incarnated as the Christ, also chose to create man "In His image." We also share that bond with God.

A recent Scientific American article gives me further physical evidence that it is by our rite-of-binding one another together that bridges us to love. The article talks of experiments and studies that suggest that we have 'concept neurons' devoted to specific memories, specific things, and specific people. In one of the experiments an assortment of pictures of Jennifer Aniston are shown to a testee that is familiar with the actress. No matter what the photo: swimming, posing, twenty years old, whatever --- whatever the case, a core bundle of neurons fired off in recognition. The idea then is translated as this: our friends, our family, anyone who makes an impression on our lives, literally change who we are.

Little Platonic Ideals of everyone we ever remember are running around in our brains. We each are imprinted by one another. That kinda strikes me as a heap of obligation. Every impression I make, every friendship form, every love pursued -- those actions of mine are subtly molding the physical make-up of another person. Yikes!

Perhaps this help explains why death is so painful for those left behind. You see, when someone we know dies, well, then physically, a little part of ourselves is physically dying as well. Likewise, those neurons of that dead now are altered as well. It's probably then literally true to say that parts of us die too when our loved ones die.

What I fail at most in life, I reckon, is not any one little sin like lying or lusting. Sins of that ilk are of course crude and insidious in their own light, but honestly, I think more often then not they are merely signals of the larger sin.
"Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”**
Too often I love myself more than my God, and more than my neighbor. These are my arch sins.

Sometimes I think that writing a blog is a bad thing. Sometimes I think that maybe it's a by-way for self-worship. Sometimes I think. 

I also think about this idea of 'collective experience'. Movies are very much separated from books because of this collectivity. Books generally are experienced by individuals, but movies! Nay, they can be experienced simultaneously by hundreds -- millions if you count television and the like. Yes, my reflections on art, film, and life in general can be an exercise (and from time-to-time undoubtedly will be) in futile self-absorption, but it is also a concerted effort to find those things that bind us together. My exercise of bloggingness helps me digest that with which my eyes have already inhaled, with the aspiration that through consideration something tangible can come forth, a thought, moment, or insight that can harness what I've experienced and make it something that can be used to build bridges between my conscious thoughts and someone else's. Hopefully, that bridge is formed through conversation in real-time (!!!), but if it also happens here online, then the benefit is amplified. 

Dear Reader(s), 
I pray that the words you read here connect you and I in such a way that we are bonded by thought, and that this bond strengthens us collectively to further love our neighbors and love our God. May your words, deeds and thoughts be lifted up for the same cause. Amen***

Peace be the Journey,
Dante Stack

*Though it lacks the profundity and heroicism that cements Mockingbird as a forever loved classic.
**Matthew 22:36-39 NIV
***I feel a tinge of weirdness in writing all this, and am slightly concerned that my whole neuron shtick came off as some sort of mini-pantheism. For the record, I am not asserting pantheism, nor do I mean for this particular blog entry to seem uber-self-important. Good day.